Giving Generously and Precision in Mitzvoth
- HaRav Avigdor Nebenzahl
- Mar 11, 2010
Among the things described in this week's Torah reading are the people's donations for the mishkan. The people respond generously with donations of gold, silver, bronze, wool, and much more. The Torah then informs us "vehanesiim (and the leaders) brought the shoham stones and the filling stones for the Ephod and for the Choshen, the spice and the oil for illumination and for the anointing oil ..." (Shmot 35:27-28). Chazal tell us that these stones were very precious and worth large sums. The word vehanesiim, however, is written with both of the letters yud missing (the one that should appear after the shin and the one that should appear following the aleph). Rashi explains "the leaders said 'let the public contribute whatever they contribute and what they leave wanting, we will complete, since the public completed everything ... the leaders said 'what is there left for us to do?' They brought the shoham stones ... Because they lagged at the outset a letter was deleted from their names".
At first glance it would seem that the behavior of the nesiim was very commendable. Why shouldn't there be some order and planning in the mishkan donations? If everyone brings whatever their heart desires there is the danger of having too much of one item while lacking something else. It would appear to be more effective to first let the people bring what they wish, and the nesiim would then pick up the slack and contribute whatever was still lacking, which could have amounted to astronomical sums. Why do Chazal refer to them as "lagging" and therefore deserving of punishment?
From a purely material perspective, the nesiim's actions were effective and even praiseworthy. However, this was not what Hashem asked for! Hashem did not ask for donations of gold, silver, or precious stones. The nesiim brought because they believed that their donations were needed and that without them there would be no choshen or ephod. Hashem asked for nedivut lev "donations from the heart" (Shmot 35:5). Hashem wants us to give not because He needs it, He could have created as many shoham stones as were required, Hashem wants us to give out of our desire to give to the Creator and have a share in His holy mishkan. Giving for the sake of giving means donating without being concerned about a possible surplus of one item or scarcity of another. Let Moshe Rabenu figure out how to deal with that problem. The two letters yud were omitted from their names because their giving was lacking, it was not purely for the sake of giving.
Later on, when the mishkan was dedicated, the nesiim rectified their mistake and hastened to bring offerings before the rest of the nation (see Rashi Shmot 35:27). Given that "His measure of beneficence is greater than His measure of retribution" (Sanhedrin 100b), when they were punished they lost two letters, yet when they repented they merited that a very lengthy portion of the Torah containing hundreds of words and thousands of letters described their donations (Bamidbar 7:1-89). Each nasi brought precisely the same offering, yet rather than writing that the twelve nesiim each brought "one silver bowl, its weight one hundred and thirty, etc.", the Torah chronicles the offering twelve times, six psukim for each nasi (i.e. Nachshon ben Aminadav from the tribe of Yehuda brought "one silver bowl", Netanel ben Tzuar from the tribe of Yissachar brought "one silver bowl"). Their initial failure to run to donate, however, will never be forgotten for the word vehanesiim in that pasuk is engraved for eternity with those two letters missing as punishment for their not eagerly hastening to donate for the construction of the mishkan.
We must understand that there is nothing Hashem needs that we can give Him. We donate for the mishkan because it is an honor for us to be able to do so, we want to perform His mitzvoth and we want to have a share in the construction of the mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash, may it be built bimhera beyamenu. The nesiim were gedolei olam yet they did not demonstrate enough of a desire to give. Hashem gave us mitzvoth for our sake not because He needs anything from us. We thank Hashem for having given us the opportunity to fulfill mitzvoth. We precede a mitzvah with "baruch ... asher kidshanu bemitzvot vetzivanu" "blessed is He Who sanctified us with His mitzvoth and commanded us ..." to wash our hands, take the lulav, or eat the matzah. Hashem gives us mitzvoth as an opportunity to be rewarded. Mitzvoth are a gift from Hashem and not a form of a punishment in the form of hard work.
Iyov asked Hashem why he suffered so much, after all "I opened my doors to the street" (Iyov 31:32), his home was open in all directions waiting to receive guests, in the same manner as was Avraham Avinu's. Why then, was Avraham Avinu rewarded for this, while Iyov was destined to a life of suffering? Hashem answered him that there was a difference between the way he treated his guests and the way Avraham Avinu did. Iyov gave fish to one accustomed to eat fish, and meat to one accustomed to eat meat. Avraham Avinu, would give meat even to those not accustomed to it. He gave his visitors "three tongues with mustard" (Baba Metzia 86b) without asking them whether or not this was what they normally ate. Avraham gave for the sake of giving, he created a need for acts of chesed.
Avraham was emulating the ways of Hashem. We cannot understand the ways of Hashem but from what appears to us, He created the world because He wanted to do chesed. Before the creation, there was no need for chesed because there were no potential recipients of His kindness. Hashem created man, animals, vegetation, and other things in order to give. This was the mistake of the nesiim, they gave because there was a need not only in order to give.
A person who truly wants to give will not wait until the end, but will give quickly and with excitement, waiting until the end to give shows a lack of enthusiasm. The Messilat Yesharim teaches us that Torah brings us to zehirut (caution, being careful not to sin), and zehirut brings us to zerizut. We see the importance in zerizut when it comes to mitzvah observance. When mitzvoth are not carried out immediately there can be a danger of an opportunity lost, there may be last minute disturbances.
In addition to being Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei, this week we take out a second Sefer Torah and read Parshat HaChodesh. This maftir discusses the mitzvah of korban pesach, matzah, and other aspects of Pesach. One of the psukim we will read is "ushmartem et hamatzot" "you shall safeguard the matzot". Chazal teach us that when we read the word matzot as mitzvoth (same letters) then just as we should be extra careful to insure that out matzah does not turn into chametz, we should insure that our mitzvoth don't sour. Matzah is a classic example of a mitzvah which must be performed with zerizut, one extra second and not only have we not fulfilled the mitzvah but we have made a bracha levatala at the Seder and violated the karet prohibition of eating chametz on Pesach.
When Eliezer met Rivka, the Torah writes that she "ran to the well to draw water". Why did she have to run? The Brisker Rav explains that Eliezer prayed to Hashem that the girl suitable for Yitzchak should appear to him today. Given that he met Rivka at the end of the day, she had to run quickly in order for his prayer to be answered. My Rebbe Rav Gedaliah Eisman explained that the simple explanation is that Rivka was a tzaddekes who searched for opportunities to perform acts of chesed.
How do we understand this? On the one hand, Rivka performed her acts of chesed because that is what she wanted to do. Chazal explain that the actions of the righteous are with swiftness and alacrity. On the other hand, it is Hashem's job to see to it that
Eliezer's prayers are answered. When a person acts, he does not have to know what Hashem's plans are.
The Gemara cites Shaul's search for Shmuel in the incident involving the donkeys. He met some women and asked them "Is this where the seer is" (Shmuel I 9:11). The women responded: "It is, behold he is just ahead of you, hurry now, for he came to the city today, for the people are bringing a feast-offering today at the High Place, as you enter the city you will find him before he ascends to the High Place to eat, for the people will not eat before he comes, since he blesses the offering; only afterwards do the invited guests eat, now go up, for you will find him as surely as it is day" (ibid. 12,13). What is all this verbosity? Could they not have simply told him to take the second left turn? Of what relevance is his daily schedule and the fact that he makes a bracha before he eats? The Gemara provides three explanations, the first is "because women are talkers", the second is "in order to gaze upon Shaul's handsomeness", the third is "because the reign of one king does not encroach upon the reign of another even by the breadth of a hair" (Brachot 48b). The third answer is of a different nature than the first two. The first two explain it from the women's perspective, why it was that they gave such a long answer. The third one tells us Hashem's plan. It was Hashem's desire that Shaul arrive those few seconds later to be anointed king, therefore Hashem saw to it that Shaul ask directions from these women who would give him a very long answer. We do what we are supposed to do, and Hashem has His own plans.
In any event, Rivka shows us her immense joy and desire at performing acts of chesed. A person who gives comes closer to Hashem, for Hashem is constantly giving. One who receives distances himself from Hashem. It is impossible to live in this world without receiving. Had Hashem created a world in which there would not be anyone in need, the world would be empty. One must give, however, not only because the other is in need, but because of a desire to give. In that way this world and the next will be blessed.
We can lean from Rivka the importance of doing mitzvoth quicky in order that it not become chametz, for when it becomes chametz we violate bal yera-e and bal yimatze and we are required to burn it. Regarding chametz, why is it so important that we perform the mitzvoth quickly? In order to remind us that Hashem took us out of Egypt at precisely the right moment - 400 years meant exactly four hundred years, not a moment sooner and not a moment later. Every plague given to the Egyptian was exactly what they deserved, no more and no less.
I once spoke in shul about the importance of precision in mitzvoth specifically that a kezayit had to be consumed within the time referred to as bichdei achilat peras. I was asked what would be so terrible if we ate a bit less and in a slightly longer period of time, to which I responded: "then you will sit approximately in Gan Eden. We can compare trying to reach someone whose telephone number is 1234567 by dialing 1234568. Not only is the difference ever so slight, but I dialed more than was necessary. Yet, if you do not dial the exact number then you will not reach your destination.
When Hashem punishes He takes everything into account - the suffering of the person, the relatives, and friends. We too must be exact when we keep mitzvoth. The idea of being precise is not limited to matzah but should be our guide to keeping mitzvoth in general. Tefillin missing even a single yud are invalid. What's wrong, the tefillin look just as beautiful, it would look even better if I did not have to paint it black. The answer is that the beauty lies in fulfilling Hashem's command. May we merit keeping mitzvoth properly and may Hashem redeem us speedily in our day. Amen.